Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘harassment’

He Didn’t Just Objectify Me, Did He? – Gay Men and Misogyny

Heads up, everyone: this is an angry post and it’s a hurt post.  If you aren’t up for dealing with that right now, this is your chance to exit.  That being said, I wanna address an issue that is incredibly important to discuss, yet gets written off as no big deal: misogyny in the queer community, specifically on the part of gay men.  I’ve been thinking and talking about this a lot recently and have gotten mixed responses.  Mostly, the gay guys I’ve talked to are totally unaware of this problem and don’t see how their own behavior fits these patterns.  Ugh.  Women…eh, reactions range from “OMG I KNOW I HAVE SO MANY STORIES JUST LIKE THAT” to “Are you kidding me?  There’s no way it could be that bad.  They’re gay–it’s not like that.”

Oh but it is like that.

[TW: body policing, casual misogyny, and sexual harassment/unwanted touching]

Groping and commenting on others’ bodies (unsolicited, without consent) is a huge problem, regardless of whether you claim to be sexually attracted to that type of body or not.  This happens especially in the case of gay men feeling entitled to women’s bodies.  In a society in which gay men are stereotyped as feminine, they’re both damned for that (“good men are masculine”) and celebrated as experts on femininity.  Since women are supposed to be feminine (cuz we all gotta be gender-conforming, amiright??), gay men are presented as having authority over how women should dress, act, modify our bodies, etc.  Think of the gay bff or fashionista stereotypes.*

What does this mean?

Body policing.  Comments that are not only unwanted, but are potentially incredibly harmful to our body images, self esteem, and mental health.  Touches that, if initiated by straight men, would immediately be identified as sexual harassment.  A lot of misogyny.

Not Sure I’m Following You…

I’m not gonna go into a whole spiel about how and why this happens, trying to convince you that it’s a problem.  If you’re confused or not familiar with this subject, I suggest you check out two articles:

  • Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies” by Yolo Akili – posted last November on The Good Men Project.  I was so excited to find this.  He explains the problem well and I’m always relieved to find folks in privileged positions doing a good job educating our own.  Writing as a queer man of color, he also touches upon the added oppressive dynamic of white men feeling entitled in any way to the bodies of women of color.
  • “Why Do Gay Men Keep Touching My Boobs: The Autostraddle Mini-Roundtable” – Autostraddle writers pick up where Akili left off.  This actually turned into an incredibly interesting (and, it seemed, healing) conversation on Autostraddle.

I’m so glad to see other people discussing the problem of gay men’s sexism prominently and to find shared experiences with other queer women (see: Autostraddle’s comment section, which is mostly devoid of derailing BS posts).  Honestly, it’s something I face a lot, and I’m not always around people who get what I’m talking about.

So…What are you talking about?

  • “You need more makeup.  Here, let me do it.”  DID I ASK YOU TO GRAB MY FACE?  FUCK NO.

  • “Why are you wearing makeup?  You don’t need that.”  Umm HELLO NOT DOING IT FOR YOUR APPROVAL.  I wear makeup for myself, regardless of when you think it’s appropriate.
  • So many anti-vulva/vagina comments.  Vaginas don’t have to be your thing, but disparaging remarks are not needed.  Bodies with vaginas aren’t inherently disgusting, thank you very much, nor are we desperate for your approval.

    Gabby from Autostraddle
    : “The comments are always quintessentially linked to what my/our vaginas might smell or look like. (Sidenote- if you don’t eat it, devour it, lick it off your fingertips, then don’t even for a second make a comment on that shit. Maybe if you did then you’d have the right to say something.  Maybe then you’d describe it as tasting like fresh cantaloupe or smelling like every good secret reason you’ve been late to class this week…)”
  • “I’m totally gay, but it is kinda nice to put your penis in one [a vagina].”  Wow, thanks for reducing bodies with vaginas to just vaginas…or, as they’ll now be known: NPRs (nice penis receptacles).  Note: being told this as a queer cis woman was exceedingly awkward, among other things, because he said it as though I should be grateful that someone was–in the same sentence–telling me he was totally not attracted to me, but that my body was good for something anyway.  Great.
  • Frequent comments against queer women, especially lesbian women. “I used to be beautiful, but now I look like a lesbian!”  Note: gay men seem shocked when I call these remarks out; I’m not really sure why.  Is it because they’re reading me as straight and are surprised that I care about queer women?  Is it because they think women–femme women particularly?–are passive and won’t cross them?  Are they totally oblivious to everything?

  • At a former job, a supervisor and a coworker–both gay men–speculated loudly about what my pubic hair looks like and whether or not I trim it.  They were standing right in front of me.  They laughed.  I didn’t say anything because I was so taken aback that I didn’t have a clue what to say.  Just be cool, otherwise they’ll think I’m super uptight.  Remember, they’re gay men so they don’t really mean it in a sexual way so it’s totally fine, right???  

  • All of the comments about my boobs.  All of the comments.  I have very large breasts and gay men (among others) tell me this frequently–in varying amounts of detail–as though I didn’t know.  Thankfully, there’s usually no attempted touching, perhaps because I give off a “touch me and I’ll break your fingers” vibe.
  • Calling me babe.  At work.  The first time they meet me.  When I’ve made it clear I don’t respond to that word.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely into affectionate nicknames.  But unless we have a rapport in which we’ve established that that’s okay, just stick to my name.  For the record: babe is never okay for me.

  • A (queer guy) ex would play with my boobs in this really negatively objectifying way, like they were toys that weren’t actually connected to my body, like I didn’t have so many feelings connected to them (emotionally as well as physically).  I never found a way to tell him how much this bothered me, cuz ya know I was obviously being irrational, right?  He couldn’t be objectifying me, I mean we’re both queer and he was my intimate partner and HOLY SHIT SO MUCH BULLSHIT.
  • Calling people bitches all the time.  As a term of endearment.  As a put-down.  Just stop, okay?  Just because you’re gay doesn’t make it magically okay for you to refer to your friends/your coworkers/your cats as “all my bitchez.”  Did you miss the chapter about that actually being (potentially) really offensive, reductive, and hurtful?  See also: don’t fucking try to reclaim slurs that aren’t yours to reclaim!

What to do?

Regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identity, check yourself!  Where do you fit in these examples?  Have you experienced or witnessed any of them?  Do you perpetrate them?  Gay men: as individuals, many of you are marvelous and dear to me.  But as a group, do not assume you and I will be best friends, simply because we’re both feminine or because you’re gay.  As you might imagine (after reading all this), I’m pretty fucking wary of you.  That doesn’t mean I will bite your heads off immediately; it means I will be guarded around you until you demonstrate that you have your shit together and are aware of yourself and the space you take up.  Check yourselves and check your friends.  Deal?

* Obviously not all gay men are feminine or into fashion.  Yes, those are stereotypes and yes, stereotypes are confining and need to be broken down.  That’s another (related) conversation.  If you post comments about being a gay man who’s not obsessed with fashion, you might be completely truthful, but you’re not being helpful.  You’re derailing the conversation.  You don’t suddenly become not oppressive just because you break stereotypes.

** I clearly wrote this from my perspective as a femme queer woman.  I can’t speak for masculine-of-center women and non-binary folks, but my perception is that there’s a different sort of bullshit that goes down there, more in the vein of “why would you be a woman (or a person ever perceived to be a woman) and be masculine?  You’re wasting your femininity (cuz women are inherently feminine, right??).”  Ughhh so many problems.  I have all of the love for butches, masc-of-center, and gender non-conforming folks.  Y’all are beautiful, handsome, and endlessly snazzy.  Here is my adorable face, just for you:

Everyone Take 2 Big Steps Back

TW: harassment, general obnoxiousness

When the bank associate asked how my day was going, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  In my head I snapped, “It’s 95 degrees out and I fucking hate people.  How do you think those combine?”  Out loud I stuck with “I’ve been better” and muttered something about being busy running errands.  As I sat in the Bank of America office, I wondered to myself about the best ways to tell someone to GTFO.  When I got home, I was still stewing about it, so I made this handy graph:

How to find the illusive fuchsia dot?  What is the maximal combination of polite-ish-ness and firmness that gets the point — “you need to back off” — across, without making a huge scene?  And before you even find that perfect phrase, how do you decide when to call things out?  Do you have the energy?  Feel safe enough?  How do you gauge what “counts” as a big enough deal that you’d say something to interrupt it?

Today I went to the dentist.  You know the drill — if your teeth are fine, you spend most of your appointment with the hygienist anyway and then see your dentist after your teeth are already clean and polished.  I still go to a children’s dental practice and, being a children’s practice, they kick you out after you graduate from college or reach the 20-something age range.  I went to this appointment knowing that it would be my last there.

After having my teeth cleaned — that joyous process that includes gum-poking metal instrument thingies — my dentist came in.  The first words out of his mouth were “Looks like you’re gonna hafta find yourself an adult dentist” while simultaneously pinching my nose.

Me in my head: You say as you pinch my nose…excuse you?  When I come here you can touch my mouth and nothing else.  When was the last time you pinched the nose of an adult man?

Me: …  *blank stare*

I contemplated saying something, but decided not to.  I didn’t want to be rude and just wanted to leave ASAP.  (Of all the ridiculous societally-conditioned responses, I was worried about being rude to the 67-year-old man who had just pinched my face.)  He called me honey as I scooted out of the office and told me to come back to visit and say hi.

Me in my head: Fuck off.

Now I’m sitting at home pissed off about this encounter, while I’m sure he didn’t give it another thought.  Had I considered for a moment about how much this would bother me after the fact, I would’ve said something.  Instead, I went to the bank, where the oh-so-friendly bank associate and manager tried to start a long conversation with me about my acting career goals, when all I wanted to do was get home.

The big question that I really want to poll: how do you handle microagressions?

  • The dentist who inappropriately pinches your face
  • The guy on the el who interrupts you 3 times to start conversations about nothing, even though you’re absorbed in a book and also have earbuds in, meaning it’s very unlikely that you want to talk to anyone
  • The much older man who approaches you on the train platform, while you’re engrossed in a book and deliberately not looking at anyone, to ask you all about what you’re reading and do you like it and why are you standing so close to my face?!
  • The long line of eyes that turn away from their tasks and stare unabashedly at you as you walk into/out of a building, evaluating everything on/about your body

These events aren’t calamities.  They don’t signal the end of the world; but they do remind us — women in particular — that we live in a society that doesn’t consider our bodies and time our own.  (Note: there are many types of bodies and gender presentations that society considers public property.  This is not exclusively a “women’s issue.”)

There are some actions that are immediately identifiable as harassment.  Someone yelling or honking at you from a car, calling out to you on the street, following you, yelling a slur, etc.  What about more subtle instances that make us uncomfortable?  How do you respond to long, invasive stares?  People chatting you up and “being really nice” when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk to them?  Strangers who assume that they deserve your attention and that you should entertain them with conversation (or more).  All the things that we’re told repeatedly “aren’t a big deal” (code for “Why are you so offended when someone invades your space and won’t leave?”)  Any advice about reasonably low-key ways to tell someone to back the fuck up?

Letters to Public Interactions/Institutions

Dear CTA conductor,

You, the one who looked directly at me as I boarded the train, and told me to smile: I will smile when I damn well please and not on command.

Fuck you,

Tamar

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Dear Lincoln Park drug stores,

Stay classy.  Chicago never ceases to come up with brilliant ideas, including this:

Yep, that’s right–the local CVS has a booze section.  Make that an extensive booze section.  New England and its liquor stores can suck it.

Mostly wine and spirits.  The bottles of hard liquor had locks/alarms on them because, ya know, CVS goods usually aren’t worth more than $10.  Classy.

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Dear guys in the truck,

How exactly did you imagine this scene would go down?  I’m honestly curious.

On Friday evening, I was driving to meet a friend.  Having jumped Spider-woman-style directly from the shower out of the window and into the car (as ya do), I realized this would be a putting-mascara-on-in-the-car trip.  (For the record: yes, this is unsafe behavior and I indulge highly infrequently.)  Un/fortunately, there are a couple of intersections within two blocks of my house at which the lights take forever to change.  One of them will actually stay red for up to three and a half minutes (apparently the average wait time at a red is one minute…nobody informed my neighborhood).

While waiting at a long stop light and applying makeup, I heard a light but persistent car horn.  “What is that?” I wondered, “The light is clearly still red.”  The horn kept going.  Turned out it was coming from the enormous truck next to me.  I looked over to find two men–clearly just off work–leaning (head, shoulders, and arms) outta the front passenger window of their company truck, waving madly at me and grinning.  Ummmm…really?

You think ima respond well to that?  I already had a mascara wand next to my eye and was watching both the traffic light and my own rear-view mirror.  You think that was a good time to demand my attention?  Please.

The start of another classy night in Chi-town.

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Dear Sprinkles,

Thank you for your genius.  Talk to y’all later–I’m moving to DC stat.

Love T

P.S. Alternately, maybe I’ll just bake rainbow cupcakes with le brother, because that doesn’t involve leaving my kitchen.

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